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America’s leadership has been plunged into extraordinary uncertainty after Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions over how far the infection has penetrated the heart of government.
The US president continued to carry out his duties under quarantine from the White House residence on Friday and was showing “mild symptoms” of Covid-19, an official said.
But the virus can take several days to manifest fully and Trump, aged 74 and clinically obese, is medically vulnerable. Should he be incapacitated, Mike Pence, the vice-president, who has tested negative, would take over. A presidential election takes place on 3 November.
Trump, who has spent months defying science and downplaying the threat of a virus that has killed more than 205,000 Americans, was also facing criticism for pressing ahead with a campaign fundraising event after learning that a senior aide, Hope Hicks, had tested positive.
One attendee said the president came into contact with about a hundred people at the fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday and “seemed lethargic”, the New York Times reported.
Trump has travelled extensively in recent days, to a presidential debate, a campaign rally and the fundraiser. A scramble was under way to test those who have been with him at close quarters. But how far the virus may have spread in the highest levels of government will be hard to establish quickly because it can take days for an infection to be detectable.
First Lady Melania Trump also tested positive and tweeted: “I have mild symptoms but overall feeling good. I am looking forward to a speedy recovery.”
The White House moved on Friday to assuage fears of a constitutional and national security crisis. “The president does have mild symptoms and as we look to try to make sure that not only his health and safety and welfare is good, we continue to look at that for all of the American people,” Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, told reporters.
“He continues to be not only in good spirits but very energetic. We’ve talked a number of times this morning, I’ve got the five or six things he tasked me to do, like I do every single morning and he is certainly wanting to make sure we stay engaged.”
Meadows, not wearing a face mask, said Trump was in his residence and his first questions in their conversation were about the economy. He declined to offer details of what medical treatments the president is receiving.
“The American people can rest assured that we have a president that is not only on the job, will remain on the job, and I’m optimistic that he’ll have a very quick and speedy recovery,” he added.
Similarly, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader and a Trump ally, tweeted that he and Trump had been discussing the president’s nomination of a supreme court justice.
“Just finished a great phone call with POTUS,” he wrote. “He’s in good spirits and we talked business – especially how impressed Senators are with the qualifications of Judge Barrett. Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the court and the country deserve,” he added, referring to Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s nominee to fill the seat on the supreme court left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg two weeks ago.
But the administration’s frequent false and misleading statements about the pandemic left many observers sceptical about the reassurances. And the US has a long history of failing to be transparent about presidents’ health problems.
The news broke just before 1am on Friday when Trump tweeted: “Tonight, FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
The announcement came hours after he confirmed that Hope Hicks, one of his close aides, had been diagnosed with the virus on Thursday. Hicks reportedly began feeling mild symptoms during a flight home from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday evening and was isolated from other passengers onboard the plane.
Even after Hicks fell ill, Trump went ahead with his engagement in Bedminster, potentially exposing attendees to the virus. Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, and press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who were originally set to join him on the trip, were replaced at the last minute by other aides.
Trump’s infection upends a presidential election in which more than a million people have voted early. The president had been holding campaign rallies crammed with supporters often not wearing face masks or keeping their distance, defying public health guidelines issued by his own administration. Herman Cain, a Trump ally and campaign surrogate, died from coronavirus in July after attending a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Trump now finds himself grounded with rallies on hold. It is also unclear whether the next debate against Democrat Joe Biden will go ahead, or be held in virtual form on 15 October.
In a tweet on Friday, Biden said he and his wife Jill “send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
. Biden and his wife Jill were tested for coronavirus on Friday morning and were negative for the virus.
Kevin O’Connor, his primary care physician, released a statement saying the former vice-president and his wife underwent testing on Friday and Covid-19 “was not detected”.
Trump and Biden did not shake hands during the debate, but stood without masks about 10 feet apart for the 90-minute event.
The president has mocked Biden for frequently wearing a mask when out in public, per federal health guidelines. “I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
In an aggressive push for businesses and schools to reopen, Trump has claimed that the worst of the pandemic is over, even as infections in America surpass 7 million, including some of his political allies.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican national committee, learned she had tested positive on Wednesday afternoon. She has been at her home in Michigan since last Saturday and did not attend the debate. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, also announced on Friday that he had tested positive.
Four US presidents have died in office from natural causes: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt. Trump’s infection is the gravest threat to an incumbent president’s health since Ronald Reagan was shot in an attempted assassination in 1981.
On Friday, as analysts warned that foreign adversaries could seek to exploit the sense of instability and distraction, Trump was reportedly considering an address to reassure the American people. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other world leaders sent Trump their best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Trump in quarantine as Covid diagnosis throws US into fresh upheaval | US news